Every photo has a context, a story and a memory – from the lame selfie you took at that party last weekend, to iconic war photos that have come to form part of our collective consciousness. Flipping – or clicking – through your own photo albums, you probably remember exactly where you were, who you were with, who was holding the camera and why you thought to capture that exact moment on film. But imagine flipping through the records of a serial killer or the case file of a murder suspect. Those photographs likely tell a much darker story…
The list below captures everything from the chilling behavior of killers to the uncomfortable moments before Mother Nature strikes and even the exact moment a hired assassin fired his weapon – murdering the man behind the camera. The scariest part is that these photographs seem like normal, innocuous pictures at first glance. But once you learn the full story behind them, the people and things depicted in these images twist and change shape, becoming something far more gruesome than a camera could capture.
In the case of these 8 photographs, the subjects, photographers and all others involved would likely rather not remember the gruesome details. A warning to readers: these aren’t just scary stories. Not only are the people and places depicted in these photographs real, but their shocking backstories are guaranteed to stick with you as horrifying records of true crime, death and more.
8. This toddler being led by a child
At first glance, this photo looks like it might just be a pair of brothers, the older child seemingly guiding his sibling safely through a crowd.
Unfortunately, that’s not the case. The toddler in the photograph, a still shot from security footage, is James Bulger. The older child is one of the 10 year olds who kidnapped, tortured and eventually murdered him at a shopping center in Bootle, England just a month before his third birthday.
After being found guilty of heinous crimes against the young toddler, his two abductors became the youngest convicted murderers in modern British history. However, due to their age they were sentenced to custody until they reached adulthood and were subsequently released at the age of 18. One returned to prison after less than a decade of freedom; the other still lives a normal life as part of society with the secret identity given him by the state upon his release.
7. This class photo
Plenty of high school graduates have a photo just like this in their yearbooks. One formal shot with everyone smiling sweetly, and then finally the photographer lets you go crazy and make the silliest faces and gestures you can think of with your closest group of friends. However, this particular class photo, snapped in March 1999 is particularly disturbing when you notice the group of teenage boys in the top left corner. Just one month later, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold would murder 12 of their classmates as well as one 1 teacher and injure an additional 24 in one of the most notorious and disturbing school massacres in history. The above picture is, of course, a class photo from Columbine High School.
What makes this photo especially disturbing is the cheerful, fun atmosphere shared by this group of graduating seniors, completely unaware that they would share a tragic bond for the rest of their lives.
6. These scuba divers
Known as “The Honeymoon Dive,” the diver in the background of this photo is Tina Watson, lying on the ocean floor minutes after being murdered by her husband.
As newlyweds, Gabe and Tina went on a scuba diving excursion in Australia. Just before this photograph was taken (by an unsuspecting friend of the diver posing in the foreground), Gabe was seen giving her what looked to be a bear hug. In reality, he was likely disabling her air regulator and holding her down until she lost consciousness. When he finally resurfaced for help, he swam leisurely back to the boat and calmly notified an instructor that his wife was experiencing difficulty. The diver swimming towards Tina in this photo is the instructor struggling to rescue her, but it was already too late.
Back in America, Gabe Watson was acquitted of murder charges based on lack of evidence – and cashed in big due to Tina’s substantial life insurance policy, and the dangerous environment in which she perished.
5. This high school house party
This shocking photo is one of the most recent to make this list. In 2001, 17-year old Tyler Hadley murdered his parents with a hammer, withdrew $5,000 from their bank accounts and then invited 60 of his closest friends to party in their house – with their dead bodies still locked in the bedroom upstairs.
According to police, Tyler bragged about the killings to one of the guests at the party, even showing him a bloody footprint in the garage and ultimately the dead bodies themselves. That guest is the boy on the left in this photograph, moments after learning what happened. He eventually turned his friend in the next day, despite Tyler’s plans to host another blowout that night.
4. These kids with static in their hair
At the time, this snapshot was meant to capture a humorous occurrence between two brothers. Today, it’s one of the most widely shared photographs depicting early signs of an imminent lightning strike.
The kids in this picture are Michael and Sean McQuilken, brothers who climbed Moro Rock in California in 1975. At the peak, someone noticed their hair had begun to rise and, thinking it was humorous, they had someone snap a photo.
Michael (the older teen in the picture) also noticed that when he raised his hand in the air, his metallic ring began to buzz so loudly that everyone in the area could hear it. However, they didn’t think anything of these strange events until the sky turned black, the temperature dropped and it began to hail.
On the hike back down the mountain, they saw an incredible flash of white light, a deafening explosion, and both Michael and Sean experienced a weightless feeling, as if being lifted completely off the ground. After the strike, Sean was collapsed on the ground on his hands and knees – smoke pouring off of his back. While both sustained severe burns, neither succumbed to their injuries that day. But the photograph serves as an ominous reminder of what imminent danger looks like.
3. This Filipino family
This photograph was snapped by a Filipino politician of his family – at the exact moment an assassin shot him dead.
It was New Years Eve, and Reynaldo Dagsa lined up his wife Arlene, his daughter and his mother-in-law outside his home for a midnight photo just as a gunman lurked in the background. The assassin sought revenge on Dagsa after he helped send him to prison for stealing cars. His accomplice can also be seen in the top right corner.
There is some debate about whether or not the glow from the gun (far left) is the bullet firing from the chamber or just a reflection – but the startled looks on his family’s faces may be the shock of hearing the gun go off from right behind them. This is a tragic and unique moment in history when a victim unwittingly captured his own murder on film.
2. This Victorian family
This family photograph may seem like a normal Victorian family posed for a portrait, with one very disturbing detail. In the early nineteenth century, subjects of photographs had to remain very, very still for quite a long period of time while early cameras processed slow shutter speeds. You can see the usual blurriness caused by natural swaying or movement in the parents’ images. However, why is their daughter in such sharp focus? Wouldn’t a child be even more prone to movement, and thus result in a blurrier image?
In fact, in the 1800s it was not uncommon for families to take formal photographs of themselves posing with their deceased loved ones. The child in this photograph died earlier that day. Her crisp, perfectly focused image makes this one of the most disturbing photographs on this list.
1. This photo of John Lennon signing an autograph
So what? John Lennon probably signed thousands or even millions of autographs in his lifetime as one of the founding members of The Beatles. However, this particular photograph makes the list because it was taken the day he was brutally gunned down on the steps of The Dakota. In fact, this exchange occurred just hours before his death. And the man eagerly looking on, seemingly admiring his hero from only a few feet away? That’s Mark David Chapman, the man who pulled the trigger.
Chapman reported standing in front of The Dakota to catch a glimpse of Lennon for hours before finally getting the chance to interact with the pop icon. He even told police he had the chance to meet his son, Julian, and briefly reached out and touched the small boy’s shirt as he walked into his apartment. That night, while waiting in the shadows, he carried out the gruesome desire he’d been harbouring the entire day, and he ended the life of one of the most influential stars in modern history.